Engelsmans Loop


Read on if you like Santa Cruz hiking, moderate hikes, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wilder Ranch State Park.

Engelsmans Loop Trail
3.7 miles; 90 min; moderate (400-ft elev. gain)

The best little 90-minute hike in the county leads past a corral where Wilder’s fabulous draft horses graze and gains about 500 feet in 1.5 miles. From the parking lot go to the farm complex and walk through the underpass. Past the corral and across the bridge, take either fork of Engelsmans Loop (going right first saves a particularly picturesque vista for later) up through grassland with grand old coast live oak and stands of graceful madrone with their peeling bark. Most of this loop is in the open and offers nice views of the surrounding hills and the coastline.

As you toil up the first hill (assuming you took the righthand fork), the redwinged blackbirds you hear but don't see are loitering around a hidden pond off to the left; down the hill to the right is Wilder Creek; and the small, sweet-smelling bluish blossoms of the wild lilac, or ceanothus, that grow along the fire road smell things up right nice in the springtime. Sticky monkey-flower and blackberry grow along the fence at the park’s back boundary.

You can prolong the fun at the top of the loop by incorporating a jaunt up pastoral Long Meadow Trail or by taking the Wild Boar Trail—it forms a big .7-mile-long “C” off the loop (but be sure not to follow Old Cabin Trail off to the right unless you are planning a big outing). Just know that come springtime, taking Wild Boar means missing a stand of wild iris on the loop.

California quail nest under the brush at the top, near the irises. Near the intersection where Wild Boar rejoins Engelsmans Loop is a spectacular view of Monterey Bay and a sloping meadow where northern harriers and sharp-shinned hawks hunt and deer browse. As you'll see, the old trail leading directly down the hill is closed due to severe ruts and erosion; the California Conservation Corps, a state project that employs young war vets, stepped in and built a longish but lovely, gently sloping bypass singletrack trail that leads off to the right and rejoins Engelsmans down the hill and to the west.

At day’s end you might glimpse a coyote or two trotting up the trail ahead, unimpressed by you and your kind. They are common at Wilder and unafraid of humans.

Return to Wilder Ranch State Park.